Could NC State be the landing spot for the next five-star tandem?
Meet two of the most spectacular players in the Class of 2016 -- who are AAU teammates and seem likely to choose the same college. And is it going to be NC State, of all places?
LAS VEGAS -- The major recruiting dual-tandem coup of this summer is rightfully expected to be Duke landing Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles. Tatum verbally committed to the Blue Devils on live TV earlier this month, and Giles, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016, is expected by many in the industry to eventually pledge to Mike Krzyzewski as well.
But another ACC school could be the benefactors of a separate double commitment. And this twosome is nearly as talented as Tatum-Giles in addition to being more dynamic -- and connected.
If the Wolfpack could land this combo featuring a point guard who might well be the best floor leader in his class and a big man whose stock is now climbing into top-10 territory, it could change the makeup of the ACC come the fall of 2016.
Though they live two hours apart from each other, both North Carolina natives (Adebayo from Pinetown and Smith Jr. from Godwin, just north of Fayetteville), the two have been friends played on and off together for the past half-decade. This relationship and potential continued pairing seems a genuine possibility -- and a really fun one. The tandem is a terrific watch and the type of twosome that will completely invigorate a fan base.
Adebayo is yet another in the latest crop of physical freak athletes that basketball is producing now at an advanced-evolutionary rate. (For example, fellow 2016 wonder Thon Maker, who coincidentally did this to Adebayo on Wednesday night.) He has the sculpted body of an NBA player already. He has got a lot of coaches already thinking and talking top-10 pick, whenever he opts to make an NBA living. Some of the player comparisons from coaches I've spoken to in Vegas this week are outright unfair, so I'll refrain from sharing the pros he's already being referenced with, but it's fair to say that his ability comes with a ceiling that is being recalibrated by the month.
"He's not just a big, strong guy now," Dennis Smith Sr., Adebayo's coach on Team Loaded North Carolina, said. "He's showing he can shoot 15-to-17-footers, as he showed in the last game."
A still-fledging, ferocious force of a player.
Adebayo's relationship with Smith Jr. dates back to their middle school days, when Adebayo's AAU team defeated Smith Jr's. club in a title game. Soon thereafter, they were put on the same team, and since then they've steadily ascended and garnered attention. Adebayo received his first offer from Norfolk State well before he got to high school. NC State came calling when he was in the eighth grade as well.
Smith Jr. got his NC State scholarship offer when he was 15. And now both are considered likely to stay in their home state for college. ("I would be shocked if he left the state of North Carolina. Shocked," one coach told me re: Smith Jr.)
Smith Sr., who also coaches his son for Team Loaded, said the logical conclusion to this recruiting story is that they'll wind up picking the same school. With how they've played, how they've both become top 15 players, and how Adebayo helps make Smith look good, and vice versa, it only makes practical sense at this point, right?
"I would agree 100 percent," Smith Sr. said. "I haven't seen anything that would prevent it from happening, to tell you the truth. All the college coaches I've talked to, they would take them both."
As for why NC State is the favorite at this point, the program's interest in both players came from Mark Gottfried and his staff just as they were taking the controls from former State coach Sidney Lowe. That's how far back this courtship dates. But there have been strong battles in the past two years, with Wake Forest and UNC making charges (UNC is still considered a viable player for Adebayo at this point), Duke still lingering, and now just in the past month Kentucky has come on heavy, which is always a factor.
It remains a compelling recruitment chase, and one a few coaches told me is among the most interesting out there.
"After talking to John Calipari, I understand why," Smith Sr said of Kentucky's late-to-the-party push. "They don't recruit two years out; they recruit guys who they think are going to be pros [after one season]."
Smith Jr's. skills certainly have him in the conversation as the best point guard in the Class of 2016. He's joined in that group by UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Frank Jackson and Kobi Simmons. In the past two years Smith has really risen, and now he's at the point where plenty consider him the best. He's fast, makes quick-minded and accurate decisions with his passes, can defend, hustles and keeps a steady head on the court.
In Team Loaded's Thursday afternoon game against Frank Jackson and the Utah Prospects, Smith Jr. outplayed Jackson (scoring 26, shooting 10-of-17 from the field, dishing out four assists and committing no turnovers), and his team won 75-59 to move on in bracket play at the Adidas Summer Championships.
"I don't really look too much into the one-on-one matchups," Smith Jr. said. "Of course I want to prove my dominance with me and (Bam), but I'm not trying to go out there and force anything out there. ... I'm a competitor off the court, too. Whether it be whoever can get the best grades, or anything, really, so off the court it's kind of similar to who I am (on it)."
Smith Jr. and Adebayo only really, seriously considered playing together at the next level earlier this year, given the past few months have been the first time they've played together at the highest level of AAU/big-shoe-company basketball. After playing with each other in a Myrtle Beach tournament last year, they first touched on the possibility.
Both play it close to the vest publicly. Smith Jr., who slimmed his list of schools to six last week (they are: Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Norh Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest), says the odds of him playing with "anybody" at the next level are "50/50." And the self-described jokester says it with a smile.
"It was getting hectic after a while," Smith Jr. said of narrowing his list. "I had to sit down with my father and really make a decision about which schools I wanted to list so I could kind of relax a little bit for the summer -- not so many phone calls.
"It's relentless and at the beginning you love it, then after a while it's overwhelming, and after that you've gotta learn how to make it fun for yourself," Smith Jr. said.
Is it a virtual certainty these two go on together to the next level? No, but it seems a good possibility, and so this pairing is the latest version of a combo deal that could alter the tenor of a major program and really change the patterns and expectations within a major conference -- even if for a year. Both are good enough to be one-and-done guys, but there's an argument to be made right now two years could also be the ideal timeline for the NBA leap.
They're program-changers for sure, though. To see the coaches and programs in attendance for that Team Loaded-Utah Prospects game only reiterated that.
"It's a mutual agreement," Adebayo said of his college choice and the decisions going forward to possibly play with Smith Jr. "I'm considering everybody," Adebayo added, stating he'll firmly decide on a school come the fall.
Mark Gottfried's done a solid job in recent years, landing four four-star players since getting to Raleigh (most notably now-in-the-NBA T.J. Warren), but no question this would be the kind of recruiting victory most coaches only get once during their careers. And if it happens, it certainly would put NC State into a position of national relevance and truly invigorate the bubbling recruiting turf wars in North Carolina.
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